It seems like only yesterday that Super Meat Boy popularized the idea of "masocore"—games that make it their mission to shake players out of their smug sense of complacency.
Just as design trends made the last generation of games more accessible than ever, in 2010, Team Meat rolled back the clock to an age where many-a controller found itself exploding into shrapnel against stylish wood paneling. And we loved them for it.
Green Lava Studios' Fenix Rage marks the latest installment in masocore, and all of the expected elements make an appearance. Rage's trap-filled levels typically take no more than half a minute to complete, and its titular hero comes equipped with an infinite supply of lives so he can bounce back into the action microseconds after being vaporized from existence. It could be easy to write off Fenix Rage as a shameless imitator—squint, and you might mistake it for Super Meat Boy—if not for the versatility of its main character.
Like Fenix's visual inspiration, Sonic the Hedgehog, he can dash—though this ability comes with a simple button press instead of a prolonged charge-up. And where most platform heroes can pull off a double-jump, Fenix trumps them all with his infinite-jump: After leaving the ground, he can ascend perpetually through short bursts. The addition of these two moves lets Rage task players with going beyond basic platforming, making for levels that require serious planning as well as good reflexes. But the way the environments themselves change Fenix's squat body stands as the game's most notable addition to masocore.
Slide down those pulsing, red blocks, and Fenix temporarily transforms into a ball of fire—this ability can't hurt enemies, but it makes short work of blocks weak against heat. And when he's blasted with the a blue projectile, Fenix finds himself trapped within a block of ice, which doesn't offer any degree of mobility, but allows him to pass through lasers unscathed. These two transformations may seem small, but they serve as interesting additions that manage to avoid overcomplicating the action. Any more wrinkles like these, and Fenix's design would be a little too busy for its fast pace, but this fire and ice mechanic provides just a few more things to consider while zipping through dangerous levels in seconds.
As with Meat Boy, Fenix Rage's levels are designed to be mastered. While you can eventually brute force your way to the exit, each level contains a cookie (similar to Meat Boy's bandages) placed in out-of-the-way locations: Grab enough of them, and you'll unlock a succession of actual recipes for these sweet blobs of baked goo. Tag a red block in a level before it disappears—which can only be done by reaching it via mathematically perfect playing—and you'll open up prototype stages featuring extremely primitive graphics. Each level also offers two alternate styles of play: challenge mode, which prescribes the available amount of jumps and dashes, and god mode, which changes the objective to destroying all of the enemies within a certain time limit.
Green Lava Games' three-man team clearly put a lot of thought into Fenix's level design, and the controls offer a degree of precision that's mandatory for this type of experience—though coming to terms with the main character's power of flight takes a bit of time. The game may bite off a big chunk of Super Meat Boy's appeal, but, based on the half-hour I played, the developers seem to be aiming for something more ambitious. If you're the type who can only sit back and laugh at a game's sheer mercilessness, Fenix Rage should inspire this exact behavior when it launches this September 24th on Steam.